Unique bronze casket bought for Bowes

The Bowes Museum in County Durham has bought a stunning 18th-century bronze casket with help from the Art Fund.

The casket is thought to be the only one of its kind, featuring sections of Chinese porcelain set into ornate gilt-bronze mounts. Its design reflects two trends in 18th-century aristocratic ornaments: the popularity of mounting valuable objects in precious metals, and the desire for fine porcelain imported from east Asia.

Mounting objects in ormolu – gilt bronze – became especially popular from the 17th century onwards, as aristocrats in European courts sought to emulate the tastes of Louis XIV of France. In the same period, porcelain from China (and later, following the outbreak of civil war, Japan) came to be seen as a luxury. It was imported to Europe by the East India Company and sold on to royal and aristocratic clients, many of whom commissioned elaborate pieces which could take up to three years to deliver.

The Bowes' casket features Chinese porcelain from the Kang Hsi dynasty: the central plaque is decorated with a bird on a flowering branch, while the surrounding panels are illustrated with flowers, vases, trees and landscapes.

Dr Howard Coutts, Keeper of Ceramics at the Bowes Museum, said: "The method of construction is almost unknown at the time, and represents a kind of highly skilled and complex manual technique often reserved for items of ‘Princely Magnificence’, destined for royal treasuries."

The casket joins the museum's collection of European fine and decorative arts from the 18th century.

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